Debit Fee Cut Killing Bank Profits: Analysts (Update1)

Updated to include comments from Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Legislation known as the Durbin Amendment that limits fees banks can charge retailers on debit card transactions is proving more damaging than previously thought, according to analysts.

Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove cut earnings estimates for both Bank of America ( BAC)and Wells Fargo ( WFC) on Tuesday, citing revenues lost to Durbin in both instances, among other issues.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D., IL)

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan downplayed the impact from Durbin in a presentation to investors on Tuesday, saying Bank of America's card services business "has recovered well," adding, "a few years ago, this was a business that had the biggest risk in it. It's recovered both from the recession, and also more lately, by the revenue lost to regulation. The revenue is largely behind us." Still, he acknowledged, "you will see the Durbin impact here in the fourth quarter results."

Rochdale's Bove was less sanguine.

"It no longer appears that the bank is going to recapture the funds lost to the Durbin Amendment. Capital Markets may produce less than expected investment banking revenue, and the various investment management businesses are producing less then hoped for," Bove wrote in his Bank of America report.

In the case of Wells Fargo, Bove cited "a more moderate view of the expense savings the company will achieve through its new cost cutting program," and added that "the key near term problem remains the Durbin Amendment. The company has yet to develop a solid response to re-acquire the revenues that will be lost to this punitive law."

In a Nov. 28 note, Stifel Nicholaus analyst Christopher Mutascio referred to Wells Fargo as "the only large cap bank under our coverage in which we and the consensus believe it can overcome the sequential-quarter negative ramifications of the lost debit interchange fees from the implementation of the Durbin Amendment."

Rochdale's Bove said he cut his estimates on Bank of America and Wells Fargo in response to presentations by chief executives at both banks at an investor conference hosted by Goldman Sachs. Citigroup ( C) is scheduled to present at the market close on Tuesday, while JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) chief Jamie Dimon, perhaps the most outspoken critic against the Durbin bill, is set to address investors at the conference during a lunch on Wednesday.

Bove made no changes to his estimates following presentations by SunTrust Banks ( STI), PNC Financial ( PNC) or Northern Trust ( NTRS) on Tuesday.

A Nov. 23 report from Barclays Capital large cap banking analyst Jason Goldberg argued the Durbin amendment would cost banks he covers a combined $1.55 billion in revenues in the fourth quarter, with TCF Financial ( TCB), Regions Financial ( RF) Huntington Bancshares ( HBAN), SunTrust and Bank of America being the most heavily impacted (see accompanying chart).

Goldberg argues "mitigation efforts" such as "reducing the costs associated with debt card offerings, changes and eliminations to rewards, incorporation of debt usage into bundled deposit product offerings, migration to credit card, as well as the implementation of new products," have been "mixed."

Perhaps the most infamous mitigation effort was Bank of America's attempt to charge customers $5 monthly for using their debit cards. The bank quickly backed away from the move, however, and plans by other banks to charge similar fees were also withdrawn.

-- Written by Dan Freed in New York. Follow this writer on Twitter.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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